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Passive or Invisible Ageism (or lifestyleism) in Academia - HigherEd Article from a few years ago


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It's kind of disconcerting if you are nontraditional, or over 30.

 

Bias Against Older Candidates
Inside Higher Ed
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/12/17/age

The comments on this article reveal much about the truth on the ground for those who fall outside the approved trajectory of going straight through from an undergraduate degree. One of those comments is included one below.

 

"Tenured at 60 • 5 years ago
I returned to grad school and got my Ph.D. at 45, then spent 9 years before being hired tenure track. This happened despite having completed a pretigious postdoc, publishing research steadily, receiving a grant for my work, and teaching in a series of full-time visiting appointments with rave reviews. I would submit 60-70 applications and receive 3-5 on-campus interviews each year but was always the second choice. When I took my age off my vita, my interviews were at top places, such as NYU and UCLA. I honed my interview skills and am certain I wasn't saying or doing anything off-putting during my interviews. You would think someone with my training would be hired somewhere. The year I was actually hired, I had 10 interviews and only one job offer. That is clearly discrimination at work. I consider myself fortunate to have finally found a place willing to set aside prejudice and fairly consider a person on their own merits. Such places do exist but most of us do not have the stamina to keep looking until we finally find one of them."
 

 

Feel free to post more. I will post more later as well.

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I'm in this boat.  It scares me, frankly, and it's an immutable down-side.  I have been told that I don't look my age and that this is a positive thing.  I think it's terrible that anyone should have to rely on that.  I'd like to think a little life experience and maturity would be looked upon kindly, but I guess in the end everyone wants the shiny new penny, grumble, grumble.

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I'm in this boat.  It scares me, frankly, and it's an immutable down-side.  I have been told that I don't look my age and that this is a positive thing.  I think it's terrible that anyone should have to rely on that.  I'd like to think a little life experience and maturity would be looked upon kindly, but I guess in the end everyone wants the shiny new penny, grumble, grumble.

 

I found it disturbing and hypocritical, but we can always hope that the age bias is lessened when the PhD is new. Other online discussions I've read make a distinction between physical age and PhD age. PhD age is the years that have passed from the time of PhD completion to the time you are applying for a job.

 

We shouldn't let this deter us or get us down. My intention with this post was to call attention to what I see as a hidden hypocrisy and accepted discrimination in academia. We need to be aware so we can be good self advocates and maybe enlist others to help us fight these sorts of things.

 

Another possible affront to the democracy of access is the creation of the published caste. Regardless of ability or posession of a PhD level of education, those who are not not affiliated with a 4-year University or major research institution will probably find it nigh impossible to pass the peer review process and get published.

Edited by mutualist007
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Another possible affront to the democracy of access is the creation of the published caste. Regardless of ability or posession of a PhD level of education, those who are not not affiliated with a 4-year University or major research institution will probably find it nigh impossible to pass the peer review process and get published.

 

and, unfortunately, of all the issues you raise i see this one as the one that will never change. 

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I wonder about this.

 

I'm in the 30+ age bracket. There's a professor at my institution who did not get tenure. She's older. I don't know the particulars, but it doesn't seem as if age alone was the only factor.

 

I've been told that I look much younger than my real age (although I do dress appropriately for my age and weight; I'm just blessed not to have wrinkles yet) and come off as mature. In education, assistant professors tend to be slightly older because most of us have been teachers in our past lives. I'm actually put off by super young doctoral students and job seekers, actually, because I honestly don't want to be advised by a person so much younger than me. Call it reverse ageism, if you will, but in a field like education, experience in the real classroom counts for a lot, in my opinion. I don't "get" people who think they can come straight into a doctoral program about teaching teachers when they have never been a teacher themselves. Our program "prefers" for doctoral students to have a few years of experience teaching, but they will accept people without that qualification.

Edited by wildviolet
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I wonder about this.

 

I'm in the 30+ age bracket. There's a professor at my institution who did not get tenure. She's older. I don't know the particulars, but it doesn't seem as if age alone was the only factor.

 

I've been told that I look much younger than my real age (although I do dress appropriately for my age and weight; I'm just blessed not to have wrinkles yet) and come off as mature. In education, assistant professors tend to be slightly older because most of us have been teachers in our past lives. I'm actually put off by super young doctoral students and job seekers, actually, because I honestly don't want to be advised by a person so much younger than me. Call it reverse ageism, if you will, but in a field like education, experience in the real classroom counts for a lot, in my opinion. I don't "get" people who think they can come straight into a doctoral program about teaching teachers when they have never been a teacher themselves. Our program "prefers" for doctoral students to have a few years of experience teaching, but they will accept people without that qualification.

 

It all depends on the program you want to join. Many professional based doctorates actually prefer applicants to have 3 years experience. Clinical counseling, teaching, public health, are the ones that come to mind now. Honestly, I don't know why they are called "professional", but that's how one of my professors relayed it to me.

 

I am trying to break into Arts and Sciences and to some extent academia, and that's where there is an unsaid preference or at least greater ability to relate to those who look most like the academics doing the recruiting. What this usually means is the younger and quicker you go through each degree milestone, the better. Merit is ascribed (unknowingly perhaps) to the undergrad who finishes before age 23, and the PhD student who starts before 25 and finishes by the time they are 30 (see the higher ed article link in the original post). I would love to collect and analyze the data on PhD student demographics and maybe that of the faculty too.

 

Another article on ageism in academia

http://ag3v.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/age-discrimination/

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Ageism is one of the reasons I chose the program that I did. I have been told that I don't look my age and can shave about 10+ years. Still I plan on dropping dates off my resume and focusing only on my MA and the last 10 years. And of course relying on hair dye to help.

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Profs in my department (anthropology) often say that it will take about 5 years to land a tenure track job from the time you graduate with your PhD, with any postdoc time included in that. Of course it's just a rule of thumb. I've also been told straight up that not having kids is a plus in the hiring process because they expect and want you to devote the majority of your time to your research, publishing, and teaching once you land the much coveted tenure track position. Not that it's not possible, of course it is, but just that it is harder.

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I am applying to PhD programs this cycle, and while I have had no hint of ageism from the majority of the programs I've heard from, I did have a somewhat disturbing phone interview with a department chair of one program.  She wanted to know whether I was prepared to work and study along side a bunch of twenty-somethings and wondered how I would be able to fit in and make friends with such an age difference. She also wanted to know why, at this point in my life, I was making the career change and wanting to get a PhD.  These are good questions, however, they are questions that I should be trusted to ask myself and to have already answered satisfactorily for myself.  It was not as if any explanation or qualification was needed; my academic credentials are stellar.

 

This person said she, too, had been a non-traditional PhD student and she was asking me these questions because she remembered her own experiences.  I tried to imagine this same conversation if she were asking me how comfortable I would be as the only woman in an all-male program or as the only minority in an all-white program, or if she questioned my decision as a woman or racial minority to pursue a PhD.  It staggers the imagination. 

 

On another note, I have been accepted to a top program in my field, so I will just have to trust that doors will open somehow. 

Edited by Bren2014
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I am applying to PhD programs this cycle, and while I have had no hint of ageism from the majority of the programs I've heard from, I did have a somewhat disturbing phone interview with a department chair of one program.  She wanted to know whether I was prepared to work and study along side a bunch of twenty-somethings and wondered how I would be able to fit in and make friends with such an age difference. She also wanted to know why, at this point in my life, I was making the career change and wanting to get a PhD.  

 

Maybe she was trying to be down to earth and open, but it sounds like terrible questions about things that should not even be at issue. What does any of that have to do with your potential for scholarly output? Perhaps she was dropping hints that group think and social capital have more to do with success than novel research and analysis. 

 

The opening article I posted in this thread was a bit one directional. I think the issue of ageism in academia is more nuanced. Ageism experienced in academia is probably an indirect process. I suspect that this ageism is seldom part of a direct scheme to shape the mindset and social circle of the academic elite. The culture of academia tends to relate more to birds of the same feather. Their order may find it hard to understand why some prodigal students delayed graduate school for 5-10 years only to come back hungry to chase a new dream and calling.

 

The academician way of life is akin to the cloistered life of a Monk or initiate of some secret order. The academic claims to be a part of the real world, but in many ways they are apart from it. They interface with it formally and informally when they leave the job, but otherwise they belong to something else. Perhaps because of this seperation, they find it hard to relate to students who for better or for worse, first found themselves tangled up in the outside life, before some pivotal moment led them to see the light. Unfortunately, I think many academics nurse a kind of skepticism about the seriousness of the non-traditional initiate. Perhaps it's more. Maybe there is a belief in academia that everyone has a place, and that everyone should accept their first choices and lot in life. Each according to their ability and each according to their need -- and never shall they need to change or desire something new ;)

 

I sometimes wonder if most living academics today came from families with a strong tradition of academic scholarship. If so, their backgrounds may not be the stuff of money and riches (it could) but their exposure and access to norms and path-finding is definitely cultural capital that they can take to the bank. Not to pity myself, but I am well aware not that I did not have that background. I am among the first generations in my family to attend college. I can think of only a handful of others, starting mainly with older cousins who ventured into that territory in the 1980s, and later, several others including myself who went to college in the mid to late 1990s. Most in my family however went in for professional and vocational training. I did not.

 

I suspect that first generation college students venture in with severe deficits in social and cultural capital that is fundamentally necessary to understand the norms and unwritten expectations necessary to understand academia. When I went back to the University for my second bachelor's degree as a 30-something, I went in knowing that I knew how to study and learn and make great grades, but I was still very ignorant regarding the experiential expectations and other cultural realities of academia. Not knowing about the extras that were necessary for building success was a detriment.

 

I hope we can keep this thread going as a way to document and monitor experiences and encounters where age becomes a factor. Nonetheless, I wonder if we should make careful distinctions about the kinds of ageism thinking that we report. Is ageism in academia something that just happens because older students are outlier statistics and outside the "norm"; or is it more systemic and a part of academia's values of merit? Do traditional path academics assume that older students with numerically shorter career timelines are destined to produce less research than a traditional student initiate who finishes their PhD before 30? This presupposes limitations and therefore limits on who should go on to join the order.

 

The ability to conduct and publish research should not belong in to an elite few. Scientific and humanistic research needs to be democratized and removing barriers that restrict who can conduct and publish research is as important as the open access movement that aims to make that research available to the masses.

 

https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008#page/n0/mode/2up

http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/09/michael-eisen-plos-open-access-aaron-swartz

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  • 5 months later...

Today I received an email from All Souls stating:

 

Thank you for your application for a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at All Souls College.

 

We have had a chance to look at your complete application, and we regret very much to have to inform you that you do not meet the eligibility criteria set by the College. The full eligibility criteria can be found on the College website by using this link, and the relevant section is highlighted below:

 

"Eligibility:

The  College will accept applications from those who are, or have been, registered for a doctorate at any recognized university and expects that applicants will have completed their doctorate or be close to completion. In the latter case, the College will need to be satisfied that Post-Doctoral Research Fellows will have completed their doctorates by the time they take up their fellowship in October 2015. The College will not normally accept applications who were first registered for a higher degree  prior to 1 August 2007. If you believe there are special reasons why this is not appropriate in your case, please state them in the space for 'Any other information ' in youe on-line application."

 

The College receives many hundreds of applications for its Post-Doctoral Research Fellowships, along with a large number of requests that the eligibility criteria be waived, which it can only do in the most exceptional of circumstances.  We have considered your circumstances and decided not to waive eligibility in your case.

 

We hope this will not come as too big a disappointment, and we wish you every success as you continue your academic career.

 

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

 

PDRF Administration Team

postdoc.applications@all-souls.ox.ac.uk

 

The question is, is this legal? 7 years from undergrad to post-doc/ABD, I don't know anyone over 30 that didn't have to take some time off.

 

Anyhow. Fight  the good fight. Anyone want to do a research project on this? :)

 

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It doesn't actually say 7 years from undergrad to post-doc. 

 

It says 7 years from starting your graduate degree to post-doc, and that's actually not too atypical. It's to keep newly graduated students from competing with PhD's moving from industry, etc. for post-doctoral positions. 

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Today I received an email from All Souls stating:

 

The question is, is this legal? 7 years from undergrad to post-doc/ABD, I don't know anyone over 30 that didn't have to take some time off.

 

Anyhow. Fight  the good fight. Anyone want to do a research project on this? :)

 

It doesn't actually say 7 years from undergrad to post-doc. 

 

It says 7 years from starting your graduate degree to post-doc, and that's actually not too atypical. It's to keep newly graduated students from competing with PhD's moving from industry, etc. for post-doctoral positions. 

 

Interesting--when I first read "higher degree program", I also thought what DMCH thought and that this college wanted someone to finish Bachelors+PhD in a total of 7 years. "higher degree" sounds a lot like "higher education" to me, which means Bachelor level and above. However, upon further research, I learned that "higher degree" could be a synonym for "advanced degree" which does mean Masters or higher. Maybe it's just where I'm from but I've not seen "higher degree" used before today!

 

Anyways, as to whether it's legal, the answer is yes. There are tons of post-doctoral fellowships in my field that have time limits like this, for reasons similar to what Eigen said. Basically, if the intent of the fellowship is to support up and coming PhD graduates, then this limit is important since it's pretty tough for a newly minted PhD to have more papers than e.g. someone applying for their 3rd postdoc!

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Many postdoctoral positions have time limits on eligibility, though usually I've seen them start at graduation, not the start of one's Ph.D. program. For example, the SSHRC postdoctoral fellowships specify that you cannot have graduated earlier than two years ago, though they do waive this requirement on account of delays "for the purpose of maternity, childrearing, illness, or health-related family responsibilities".

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I still think the All Souls thing is weird.  Not sure what field it is, but in some fields 8 years is not an atypical time to degree.  Let's say that you took 8 years to finish a degree in the humanities or social sciences, especially - maybe it just took you 8 years or maybe you took a year or two off because you had a child or needed to deal with a health problem.  Now you can't apply, or you have to go through the hoop of explaining it?

 

If they want to be satisfied that you will be finished before you start, they could just do the normal thing and ask for a letter from your advisor confirming that you are far enough along to be setting a defense date Very Soon.  After all, just because I've been in my program for only 4 years doesn't mean I'm more likely to defend this spring than someone who's been in for 7.  (in fact, in some programs it may mean I'm a little delusional).

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  • 2 months later...

In fact, I don't see how you could be eligible for tenure-track jobs in academia without being very close to 30.  Even a flash who went straight from undergrad to grad school and finished in 5 years would be 27 when they graduated.  Maybe 26 if they had a late birthday.

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  • 4 years later...

I am in my sixties. I achieved an M A two years ago from a Russell Group University in Medieval History. I have quals in Manuscript work, Latin and old scripts and now have a very interesting subject to study. However, what happened to studying for a PhD because you have a really interesting topic and because you ant to follow it, you can manage the finance? I have an MA in Philosophy from UCL from some time ago.But I can't get anyone to supervise me. I am not awkward and also look ten years younger than I am. This is very soul destroying when there is no real reason except my age. Of course you can never prove it. They would just say they were not interested in your research or you are just not good enough. I don't necessarily want a tenured position or even a job-just investigating for sheer passion. I have a slight disablement and feel I am condemned to sit at home and watch 'Loose Women'.Only kidding" Can anyone suggest anything.

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3 hours ago, Eve Nicholson said:

I don't necessarily want a tenured position or even a job-just investigating for sheer passion. 

If you are applying to funded programs, this may be part of the problem if you are not looking for a long-term research career. Many PhD faculty are looking to raise the next generation of researchers who will go out and create a network for them with other institutions through their job placements. There is also some expectation for their students' future research to bring recognition to the institution from which they were trained. The extent to which this plays a role in admissions will, of course, vary from program to program, but I've heard this mentality quite a bit. 

This doesn't mean you need to be 20-something to get a PhD. Many of my peers are over 40, but are still looking for tenure-track positions after they graduate. PhD programs invest a significant amount of money into the training of each of their students (they typically cover tuition remission, stipend, sometimes health insurance). There needs to be some return on that investment for the program. Therefore, the program is seen as job training with a long-term goal in mind.

I know that might sound harsh, but it doesn't mean you can't earn a PhD. It means you need to be strategic about where you apply. If you are not looking for a research career, then applying to research universities whose students primarily place in tenure-track positions probably isn't going to work out for you. You might need to look at lower-ranked institutions (which aren't necessarily bad programs), or programs that are not fully funded (if you can afford it; normally I don't recommend programs that aren't fully-funded but this is a different situation). If you are able and willing to self-fund, (i.e., pay for your classes and all other expenses), you might try reaching out to some programs to explain your situation and see if they might consider you before applying. I'm not sure if it's worth it for you to do this, as it would be quite expensive over the course of several years. There are also for-profit and online PhD programs, which I also don't normally recommend, but if this really is just a passion project and you can easily afford it, it might be worth considering.

Another thing to consider is how many programs you are applying to. If you're not able to relocate, that severely limits your options. Many applicants apply to 9-12+ programs and might only get into one or two (if any) on a given cycle. If you can relocate, you will have a better chance of finding the right fit.

I will also say that it is entirely possible that faculty are not interested in your research topic. Research fit is a big consideration for PhD programs, and if you apply with a single, specific idea of what you want to study and it does not fit the interests of the faculty, then another student may be selected. It isn't just about what you find interesting and giving you the leeway to do what you want; faculty needs to find it interesting and believe it has the potential to be a successful area of research (i.e., publishable). Perhaps your interest is a dead topic in the field (no one is researching it anymore), or it's a saturated area with little room to make significant contributions, or they just don't care for the topic and another student is equally or more qualified and interested in the same thing they are. 

I do know of someone in their 50's who was recently admitted to a good PhD program, so it is possible. She was strategic about where she applied and reached out and built relationships with a few potential advisors before submitting her application. Keep in mind that there are many reasons you might not get an acceptance - many applicants of all ages need to apply for several rounds before finding success, even when they have masters degrees, good grades and test scores, and great letters of recommendation. The problem might be your age for some programs, but there are other programs willing to consider you if you are the right fit and keep trying.

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Thank you Meraki. I can self fund and am not looking for funding and have started to reach out to a wider circle now. Your advice is really useful for me and encouraging that not everyone is biased and that there is some hope.Evie

 

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On 2/3/2019 at 10:22 PM, Meraki said:

If you are applying to funded programs, this may be part of the problem if you are not looking for a long-term research career. Many PhD faculty are looking to raise the next generation of researchers who will go out and create a network for them with other institutions through their job placements. There is also some expectation for their students' future research to bring recognition to the institution from which they were trained. The extent to which this plays a role in admissions will, of course, vary from program to program, but I've heard this mentality quite a bit. 

This doesn't mean you need to be 20-something to get a PhD. Many of my peers are over 40, but are still looking for tenure-track positions after they graduate. PhD programs invest a significant amount of money into the training of each of their students (they typically cover tuition remission, stipend, sometimes health insurance). There needs to be some return on that investment for the program. Therefore, the program is seen as job training with a long-term goal in mind.

I know that might sound harsh, but it doesn't mean you can't earn a PhD. It means you need to be strategic about where you apply. If you are not looking for a research career, then applying to research universities whose students primarily place in tenure-track positions probably isn't going to work out for you. You might need to look at lower-ranked institutions (which aren't necessarily bad programs), or programs that are not fully funded (if you can afford it; normally I don't recommend programs that aren't fully-funded but this is a different situation). If you are able and willing to self-fund, (i.e., pay for your classes and all other expenses), you might try reaching out to some programs to explain your situation and see if they might consider you before applying. I'm not sure if it's worth it for you to do this, as it would be quite expensive over the course of several years. There are also for-profit and online PhD programs, which I also don't normally recommend, but if this really is just a passion project and you can easily afford it, it might be worth considering.

Another thing to consider is how many programs you are applying to. If you're not able to relocate, that severely limits your options. Many applicants apply to 9-12+ programs and might only get into one or two (if any) on a given cycle. If you can relocate, you will have a better chance of finding the right fit.

I will also say that it is entirely possible that faculty are not interested in your research topic. Research fit is a big consideration for PhD programs, and if you apply with a single, specific idea of what you want to study and it does not fit the interests of the faculty, then another student may be selected. It isn't just about what you find interesting and giving you the leeway to do what you want; faculty needs to find it interesting and believe it has the potential to be a successful area of research (i.e., publishable). Perhaps your interest is a dead topic in the field (no one is researching it anymore), or it's a saturated area with little room to make significant contributions, or they just don't care for the topic and another student is equally or more qualified and interested in the same thing they are. 

I do know of someone in their 50's who was recently admitted to a good PhD program, so it is possible. She was strategic about where she applied and reached out and built relationships with a few potential advisors before submitting her application. Keep in mind that there are many reasons you might not get an acceptance - many applicants of all ages need to apply for several rounds before finding success, even when they have masters degrees, good grades and test scores, and great letters of recommendation. The problem might be your age for some programs, but there are other programs willing to consider you if you are the right fit and keep trying.

I have just put together a proposal for a specialised topic, an interdisciplinary between philosophy (a subject where I have an MA from UCL/theology in which I have a diploma from the Maryvale Institute /history(where I have an MA from Bristol in Medieval History. concerning the spiritual Impact on the devout pilgrim of  medieval pilgrimage in England and Wales- with reference to Aristotle Aquinas and others. I am looking at transformational emotions and conversion of soul required for penance. Perhaps it bores people, but I find it fascinating and it is a real project for me to trawl medieval pilgrim plays, Latin and English, welsh poetry and art etc  but would welcome guidance in some areas which is why I am interested in an good supervisor.

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